Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Java for teacher?


Money Saving Mom got wind of an item that gives away free coffee to teachers.

Kick off the new school year at Starbucks. Stop by each Monday now through September 29 and receive a tall cup of Pike Place Roast ™, on us. Just present a valid K-12 teaching credential and the coffee’s our treat. It’s a little recognition for everything you do.

Apparently the deal starts on September 8th, and is only valid regionally, so check with your local Starbucks if you want a cup. Also, I'd like to make two observations;

1. A teaching credential? I'm hoping that my NEA membership card will be good enough because I'm not digging into the file cabinet for Pike's Place Roast. Sumatra? Maybe. But not the cheap stuff.

2. Which brings me to the Pike's Place Roast. As a once frequent buyer of the coffee nectar, I'm pretty irritated that the only consistent roast is a weak blend that has little flavor and was created to draw in the McDonald's crowd. Right now it is the ONLY decaf choice, and the only choice of coffee at all in the afternoon. What happened to the Starbucks "experience"?

Musings of the second day of the year

I'm back at it and it's fun again.

When it comes down to it, students really do make teaching fun, and new teachers need to realize that while it is easy to let the less-than-10%-downer-group get you down, it's the rest of them that really need your attention. What's the days been like?

-The energy is pretty good in all classes but one, and that class just seems to be waiting to see if I'm for real.

-The topic of Georgia and Russia came up in almost every class (we watch the news). I ended up taking 10 minutes to talk about it later in the day, and stumbled right into an example of federalism. It was not only a great teachable moment (students were asking good questions), but I made a wonderful connection with a political theory that kids struggle with. Oh, and there was a little of that Cold War thing.

-I have a Smart Board in class now. I bought a new laptop over the summer for school and hooked it up. My, my, my is that a pretty device. Going from browser to picture to video is now an instant breeze. Was a pain to set up, but worth it when it works.

-One thing that I need to stop doing is that expectation that Juniors already know parts of U.S. History when I talk about issues. I've been teaching Seniors for so long that with Juniors I say some event and get looks of "huh?", when I used to get slight nods of recognition. Different clientele means that I need to tone it back a little bit, which is fine but takes some getting used to.

My goal of not working at home this year is not working at all. I'm already preparing a power point about Colonial vocabulary words at night watching Giants games.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Not funny

I walked into my classroom and checked my e-mail this morning to find a message from a teacher with a link to an article from a local columnist. The article read something like this:
One fairy tale that gets floated around schools at this time of year is that you're surrounded by smart, caring adults who want to help you succeed, help you follow your dream, help you be the best possible you! This is all rubbish.
And the remainder of the article if pretty much the same way, except that he does call counselors "true parasites infecting the education racket", so he does get his digs on the admin as well.

The guy that writes this crap is a local columnist that regularly hurls bombs at any and all easy targets, but sorta does it to be shockingly funny. I think that it could be considered satirical, except that nobody really laughs and the writing is so bad that it is often ignored. It's like someone took an ex-hippie and told him "hey, act like you are pissed off at everything and write about it like Andrew Dice Clay would, except omit all the language". Like Clay, you are shocked for about half a second, realize whose writing it, and then move on to see who won silver medal in at the Zinfandel tasting competition at the county fair.

And that's the time of day I gave it. In the end, it did nothing to disrupt a fabulous day of teaching.

You can read it too if you want, and then go watch Jon Stewart's coverage of the Democratic Convention for real satire.

Sunday, August 24, 2008



It was my last day of prep before the kids started the campus invasion tomorrow.

Every year I go into my classroom on the Sunday before students start just to make sure that any little things I might have missed are complete.  While we try so hard to prep for subject matter, sometimes we miss the little things until the students are already sitting there in front of you.  So I made sure that the pencils were sharpened, the grade book (yes I do both a grade book and the computer) had paper in it, and that any other issues that might hinder my first day were taken care of.  I even made a little check of my laptop/smart board to make sure that I could boot it up quick if I needed to.  The entire thing took about 90 seconds, which is fine when things are flowing ok, but could be an eternity when students become impatient.

I'm also ready to implement my new attendance policy.  I've found that in recent years, the one thing that has created the worst amount of friction between myself and students was attendance.  I'd nail kids for being 30 seconds late and they ended up in the office with contracts that pulled them out of class for often down the road.  Then parents or the kids themselves (18 year olds sign out) would sign "excused" and the whole exercise became exasperating.  Was it really worth 30 seconds?  So I'm changing the policy to this:

-Students will be marked tardy, but with no penalty.  Tardies will be marked until roll is taken or 10 minutes.  It is then a cut.

-Quizzes will be done the moment class begins.  Students are not allowed to make up quizzes if they are tardy.

-Students are are habitually tardy will be warned and then consequences will be taken later.

-Cuts will be handled normally.

-Students that come in tardy must do so quietly and they must get right on task. Failure to do so will result in ejection from the classroom for being a distraction.

I know, it seems lenient and almost uncontrollable.  However, realize that the main point of the policy is actually keeping the kids on the classroom longer, since attendance contracts require them to miss my class, usually for the entire period.  Why make a minute of tardiness worth 50 of instruction?  Add to that the alienation of students being yanked out of class, especially when they WANT to be in there, and you have the makings of my new plan.  It was a student in first period of last year that wrote a lengthy paragraph on my report card about the instructor seeming to want to be too much in control in regards of the tardy policy, and that it detracted from an otherwise good class.  I think he had a point, and that while we could set parameters up the ying-yang, kids needed to be held accountable in a way that impacted them more realistically.  Tardies were just being excused by parents, so pursing the avenue of discipline was not a productive use of my time.  Then comes the argument that we are "preparing them for the real world".  I would argue that what I do might better prepare them than setting an unenforceable rule.  You don't get sent to detention when you are late to work, you get docked pay (or a quiz if you don't make it).  And get this, more and more jobs are seeking employees that set their own hours, but get the tasks down with quality and in a set time.  Sounds like preparing them to me.  

So the year starts in 12 hours, and the butterflies are there, as is the anticipation, as is the concern, and everything else that goes through the mind on the day before. 


Friday, August 22, 2008

A response to the letter I just received in my box

-Nice card, and the message is probably appropriate.
-Teachers are allowed to be bitter, that doesn't mean they'll stop being good teachers. If you read other posts, you should clearly realize that I love my job.
-Your other party is way off on the lack of professionalism. Was the post a little tantrumy (is that a word?), probably.
-I stand by my advice 100%, and I practice it too.
-I can teach any courses in my department and do it well.
-I don't involve personal feelings in the classroom, as my blog often clearly states.
-The only promise I can make is that I'll give you everything I have in the classroom to make the educational experience a great one to the best of my ability.
-Parents are always welcome to sit in on my classes.

Last thing. I've had parents get in my face and scream me up and down using very naughty words, and I never bring that back to the student. Your expression of concern is thoughtful and courteous, and is a positive step in a healthy teacher/parent relationship. Always feel free to contact me.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let it flow


I reread my rant this morning and couldn't decide if it was embarrassing or more to the truth.  In the end, I decided that it was more to the truth, but I wasn't going to let it deter me from getting the satisfaction of teaching.

So I drove to the school with coffee in hand and walked into my empty classroom at 7 a.m. and said to no one in particular, "U.S. History curriculum will be developed today.  It will be done".  Although it didn't happen until about 1:30 in the afternoon, the euphoria came upon me when I finally broke through that "relevant creativity" wall that had been blocking me for awhile.  The guiding questions formulated in my mind and the development of my U.S. lessons came pouring out onto my computer like the freed lake that had been dammed up for years.  It felt good.  It felt really good.  I scoured websites and found videos, primary sources, quotes, images........everything flowed so well.  The only thing I can compare it to would be my old Dragonlance novels that I like to read on occasion.  In the books, when a mage casts a spell correctly it's like the greatest feeling of euphoria that can exist builds up within a person and then bursts out upon completion.  A person slowly weaves the spell that works its magic and when the end result is upon them, a marvelous sense of satisfaction.  This afternoon I was weaving, and it was a very nice change from yesterday.

However, not be a killjoy but the morning held a staff meeting in which we were given attendance information that confirms my thoughts from last night.  We are not getting the help from the community that we need to succeed.  I'll post some interesting stats later.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On a lighter note


While it made me feel better a little to get that last post off my chest, reading it is depressing. So here's a little something that will lighten the mood. The video "Weapon of Choice" from the Fatboy Slim album that is pictured in the previous post. It is bizarre, funny, and in my opinion, damn good. Plus, who can possibly hate Christopher Walken?

Why try?


I had a very up and down day that I can't really talk about because, well, I just can't.  But at the end of the day, I was really relating to Christopher Walken, "Why Try Harder". 

This morning I was hit with some very tough news, only to find that the problem had resolved itself by the end of the day, but only when I had to given in somewhat regarding my philosophical standards.  While I went home this afternoon very happy that it was resolved, I talked to my wife during dinner and realized that I'm giving too much to a situation that is not wanting much of a return.  I'm not going to beg kids to adopt higher standards when parents and society don't seem to find the value in those higher standards.  I'm watching teachers and administrators work their collective asses off to create an environment that is conducive to academia, and for what?  So we can cut high end classes because 20 students is too little for one teacher?  So we can watch our school suffer because our "sub-groups" decided not to show up for test that means nothing to them?  So the community can put more emphasis on Homecoming Week than STAR testing week?  So we can wonder if we'll have music or sports art or anything else that is relevant to kids at this moment?  Well guess what, it's draining.  It's draining on admin, it's draining on teachers, and it will flow right down to students because we are not getting help from the most important group.....society. 

Today I was told a quote that I think I had resisted hearing for years, and I was fortunate to selectively ignore it.  The quote was this,

"We can deal with the philosophical aspect of the situation or reality.  One is nice but isn't going to matter much right now.  We have to deal in reality and the reality is .......".

It was a sad moment where I felt like something in me just toppled.  Maybe my pollyanish image of teaching got a serious limb hacked off or something.  Whatever it was, it made feel defeated, even after I got the result that I wanted.  It simply seems like too much work against the tidal wave of society that walks into your classroom with a mandate, and on the way out takes one of the tools necessary to complete the task.

I'm dejected and I'm tired, and it's only the third day.  I work too hard.  I give everything to the kids. I created two new classes including one AP in which I had very good scores.  I coach tons of extra hours.  I take kids on field trips.  I take kids to conferences.  I love my job and I'm passionate that it is very important and meaningful, and that it does good.

Society does not share in my passion, and that is just beating me up right now.  I'll shake it off eventually.  I have to, because I have to teach.

Monday, August 18, 2008


It was a long day in class today as I continued to prepare the classroom for the return of the rug rats, only this time the technology was finished and the focus turned to prepping the classroom environment with music in the background.  I have to admit, it is nice to have my new toy.  It is just an amazing item.  Plug it into my classroom speaker system and I have my playlist going in the background while I go about the task of creating academic nirvana.   The only problem is that some of the music might not be totally suitable for underage ears (at least at the school).  While most of the music passes the boundaries of Standards and Practices with ease, I need to leap up and hit "next" when Nothin But a G' Thang hits the airwaves or Eminem starts to play.  Last thing I need is for a mom to walk in to Dr. Dre throwing it down with Snoop Dog.

I worked the campus a little today with upperclassmen getting their schedules and visiting teachers.  I was genuinely happy to see the students.  It's the warm feeling from teaching that I missed when having to deal with the politics of it all.  I got quite a few hugs and some new students introducing themselves to me with the question, "Aren't you the hard teacher?"  My response is "Yep, and we be learning baaaabbbyyyy!"  Some returning students and incoming Seniors also stopped by to express regret that I wasn't teaching Gov/Econ.  Older ones stated that it was a good rite of passage for students that are about to graduate.  All were genuinely sad to see me out of my element.  One ex-student expressed today on IM, upon learning about my lack of Gov/Econ classes, "I don't understand!  You are THE Gov/Econ guy!!"  Not this year. 

After leaving the students behind I went into the room and finished a U.S. Geography Power Point that I'll be showing kids during the first week of class.  The way I look at it, they better damn well know where shit is in this country if they are going to know its history.  New rule for my History classes.  All students must pass 80% states on the first semester and then 80% of the capitals on the second.  They'll keep taking it until they reach the 80% or they'll get a zero.  After the power point was complete I moved on to working with my software to get it integrated with the equipment, and then came lunch.  I watched the U.S.-China bean ball fest online and was proud that Giant minor leaguer Nate Schierholtz drilled that Chinese catcher.  Don't stand right in front of the plate, and stop drilling every over U.S. batter.  That will get your catcher protected!  By the way, props to NBC Olympics online for showing things that aren't always tape delayed.

I finished the afternoon with more technical integration, hanging up classroom artwork (old historical newspapers I've saved), and planning out my first week a little more closely.  Economics is fine, as is International Studies.  I'm having a bitch getting a relevant activity with a leading question for the start of U.S. History.  I whipped out my old college U.S. History notes and found a little background for a power point, but I need something to hook.  I question that involves them a little more.  A little classroom pacing tomorrow will do the trick.    

Prepare thyself



This picture is about 15 paces to the left of my classroom and overlooking Low Gap Road and Low Gap Park.  That smaller hill in the front is where the Disc Golf course is that I've been trying to frequent more, and the canyon on the down slope is where the afternoon winds come from almost daily.  Drive up that road for about 90 minutes and you'll hit the Pacific.  It's not that far away, but that road has serious curves and is a single lane is some places.  This picture was taken in November of last year, as the trees clearly show.

The picture is one of tranquility and peacefulness.  It is not the message I've been receiving about the upcoming school year.  In fact, the year seems to have started with a warning to all staff, "Prepare Thyself".  Take out of the equation that I'm still really bitter about last year (classroom assignments and my classes being yanked) and the overall attitude from staff that I've talked to remains the same, that challenges from every part of the universe are going to be coming our way and we need to be ready. 

The campus is under construction once again.  Although my personal struggles with it are over, students will be impacted, faculty will be annoyed, STAR testing will be a nightmare, and I'll be listening to the sound of handsaws again in the morning (should be dimmer though, since my end of campus is done). 

There is no money for anything, anyone, at any time, and that seems to be that.  I'll be applying for grant money this year for Model U.N. (again), and I now have to do fundraising if I want to go to more than one basketball tournament.  I would like to do three (the normal amount), so I'm going to have to raise around $1,200 for tournament costs, my lodging, and transportation.  I'm thinking that a free throw-a-thon will be in order, something that I did back when I coached about 12 years ago.  It won't raise a grand, but it will have to do because I think that it is insane that I have to hustle for money for what is basically Advanced Placement P.E. 

And more challenges are coming down the pike from the union.  I'm already hearing complaints about the Super getting more money and people are getting frustrated with not having a COLA raise that matches inflation.  I'm going to recommend that the union investigate, with the district, some kind of program that gives bonuses to teachers based on a union/district rubric for the evaluation of performance.  The money for some kind of merit pay is there, but I don't think that they will touch it because they have a nasty habit of being CTA lap dogs.  Almost none of them have a clue about what merit pay actually entails, but they jump at the chance to tear it down when the words are mentioned.

Then there is the usual scheduling and flexibility that comes with the realization that there will probably be more students than chairs in the room on the first day.  A lot of teachers get real frustrated with quirk of scheduling, I just relax and not worry about it.  Our contract says that we need to be down to a certain number within a few weeks and I know that it takes a lot of work getting everyone's wishes nailed down.  Why get pissed about it? 

So I guess it's time to get in the classroom and keep the profile low.  I feel like the best thing for my own good would be to not walk outside the room for fear that someone will get irritated and that more problems will arise.  I my classroom, I can actually have some control of the situation and outcomes. 

I guess tomorrow we'll begin to find out.    

Friday, August 15, 2008

A barbershop encounter


I spent a full day in my classroom getting prepared for the incoming student rush that will happen on 8/25.  However, it was preceded by the annual "cut the shag off my head" event at the local barbershop.  I probably shave off about five pounds of hair off of my melon by this time of year, and at the same time cool my internal body temperature by about five degrees.  That's a relief since the really hot temps have made their appearance in the valley, around 107.  The barbershop I go to is run by two older gentlemen who do a nice, quick job on cutting the hair while engaging in delightful conversation about nothing in particular.  It's delightful and quick, no 30 minute Super Cuts hassle where the girl knows nothing about what you really want.

While in the chair, my barber asked me how the prep for school was going, at which time I told him that I was already full into preparation.  The school budget came up (as it usually does in this town), as did the need for teachers to get more money for their own classrooms.  That's about when a gentleman came in and took a seat in the chair next to me and starting chatting with the other barber.  I was silent (I don't talk much in the chair, just relax) and listened the conversation, which turned to the man's child.

"Getting ready for the school year?", asked the barber.

"Oh, you know, not much of a issue here", said the parent, "My kid is pretty much home-schooled."

My ears perked up immediately.  I made no overt gesture that I was interested in the conversation, but I listened in anyway.

"Yeah, my kid is on Independent Study, which is the only reason that he's in school at all, because of the sports."

I've seen this many times at our school.  Kids that drop out of the academic part of the school because of one reason or another, but manage to still love the school enough to go to all the Homecoming Events and play in two sports.  It's a joke.

"You know", says the parent, "there are some good teachers at (blah) high school, but it's just not for my kid.  Ok teachers, not much education."

At that point he went silent.  Now both barbers knew that I was a high school teacher, and I had the feeling like they were waiting for me to partake in the conversation.  They didn't wait long.

"So, what do you see as the problem with public high schools", I turned to him and asked.

"A lot of things.  My kid gets more freedom to do what he wants and he goes to Mendocino College to take some classes.  Plus, a lot of those high school teachers lie."

"They lie?", I asked.

"Yeah, you know, I'm pretty conservative and most school teachers lie about what's right.  Most teachers are liberals anyway and teach that way."

I didn't say any more and just sat there waiting for my cut to finish.  I think I shook my head one time, but I wasn't really angry.  I was more sad with a myriad of things that the parent stood for.  Public education wasn't good enough, except for the sports.  Teachers somehow have this mass political agenda and outright lie to the students.  Part of me wanted to stand up and challenge him to put his kid in my class.  I wanted to tell him, "I promise that he'll learn something and have one of the best educational experiences of his life", but I got the feeling that the gentleman would be the kind of guy that would pull the kid from my class if things got too tough.  In the end, I paid my money and left without comment, the barbers probably wondering about the thoughts swirling in my freshly mowed head. 

New teachers are going to find that society likes to have it both ways; they want you to teach their kid, but they want you to do it on their terms, and using whatever information and methods they deem as appropriate.  The problem is that a teacher can't work with 150 different sets of terms, and the information and methods that parents want studied are often ineffective or flat out wrong.  It's going to sound rebellious, and don't take it that way, but ignore the garbage and do what you do best.  Remember, most of society hasn't a clue about what teaching is really about.  Parents are more concerned about the influence, control, and welfare of their own children, and they could give a damn about the 149 others in the class.  You don't have that luxury.  You have to give a damn about all of them, even the ones who don't have the parents that care about anything.  So ignore this type of criticism from mainstream society and stick to the fundamentals of teaching; work hard, focus on the kids, and be passionate and thankful that you have a job that matters. 

The way I look at it, the man in the barbershop made a serious error in not allowing that kid into my realm of the public school system.  Oh well, guess I'm going to have to do with the 149 others.  I'm up for it. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Carnival of Education

The Carnival of Education is over at Joanne Jacobs (check my blogroll) and includes my post regarding Lamar County offing the technical aspect of teaching.

One note about Joanne Jacobs' site. It was one of the first that I read regularly and I still do. However, it has become very anti-public school, even to the point of really going after public school teachers. I don't bother commenting on the stories any more because the anti-public teacher sentiment is almost seething.

That doesn't mean that I don't think you should read the posts on the site, but just be prepared for some serious rhetoric by the commentators.

Eighth Grade Algebra (updated)


Thank God that I'm not in school now, because I would not have made the Algebra requirement that is now law.

The California State Board of Education passed the 8th grade Algebra mandate yesterday and everyone is weighing in on the controversial issue. Someone sent me an e-mail to add my opinion to the blogosphere, so here you go.

First of all, anyone that is against this is going to be called a believer in underachieving and blamed for being directly related to all the ills in the education world. This is crap of course. There is a difference between high expectations, and the act of setting students up for failure. I think the 8th grade Algebra mandate is doing more to set kids, and the system, up for failure for a variety of reasons.

Math is a progressive subject that students must learn and master before moving on to the next phase. If students can't add and subtract, they will have greater problems with multiplication, and then have greater problems with division, and then fractions, and so on. Saying that students will figure out algebra when they have been pushed through an education system that doesn't hold them back if they don't know math, is quite ridiculous. I was in the standard 8th grade math, then Pre-Algebra as a freshman, and finally Algebra I as a sophomore. When I went to college it took me three semesters to pass Intermediate Algebra. I look at math like a foreign language that I don't comprehend well, and advanced math as something that has little relevance in regular society (Darren at Right/Left will disagree). However, I wasn't allowed to pass college until I finished the required courses. Primary level kids are not being held back because they have trouble in math, and will continued to be funneled to high schools even if they don't know the subject matter. Are middle schools prepared to hold back students for the sake of algebra?

Schwarzenegger's Secretary of Education was asked about the cost of the new mandate. He stated that it would cost billions, with a 'b', to fund the effort to get 8th graders to pass Algebra. We are talking about a serious boom for textbook companies (what a surprise) that will be humping books, supplementary materials, computer programs, online software, and other crap items that districts will be required to use to get kids through the mandate. When pressed about where this money will come from, the Secretary basically said that he was hoping that California's budget situation would improve, otherwise he didn't know. That's one hell of a way to pay for a program.

As usual, the government is still hiding it's head in the sand when realizing that the problem with Education is much more systemic. Instead of addressing the problems of the whole, politicians cover their ass by saying that kids need to know more, and then pass a mandate that requires that more money be spent in a broken system. It will make headlines, probably shift a couple of borderline students into success, but will ignore the issues like ELD kids, students with special needs, and students that are victims of bad teaching.

It is quite embarrassing for a state that considers itself to be a world leader in innovation to have no clue about fixing a system to educate it's citizens.

Updated 8/12:

What a surprise. The estimated cost of implementing the program is about $3.1 billion, which you might see as insane, but that's because you think you have a clue about how education works. I mean education as a political practice by the way, not education as in the actual learning, because neither the mandate, nor the $3.1 billion will do much. Go up about three paragraphs and you will see where the money will go. Can you say "textbook company windfall"?

Another surprise, the state has trouble finding qualified Algebra teachers. Yet the State of California, and the teacher's union, won't look at making wages higher for teachers. I mean, we are talking about an increase in the demand of teachers, right? Higher pay? Either the state should cave and increase salaries all around (which is insane and won't happen) or the unions should look towards some sort of bonuses for exceptional teachers and teaching areas that are in demand (which won't happen because unions like to protect bad teachers in the interest of staying in power).

This is a stupid political trick by Arnie that is becoming a stupid financial issue thanks to Jack O'Connell, and will be dropped in the laps of teachers that have plenty of real issues to worry about.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My advice to the rooks


Well, I'm about to jump into my eighth year as a teacher, and I felt that I can now dump this whole "new teacher" label and start to impart some wisdom on the generation that is entering the profession.  No, I'm not trying to say that my way is the best way or that I'm a master teacher extraordinaire.  What I'm trying to do is impart some wisdom to teachers from someone who still has the fresh memories of rookie teacherdom on the mind.  I also come at from a different point of view.  I'm a passionate teacher that loves his job and I think that I'm pretty good at it.  I think that it is important that young teachers realize that passion for teaching really matters and that the profession, regardless of how society or the media portray us, is the most important on Earth.

-The most important aspect of teaching is the understanding that you are doing what is best for the kids.  Your love of the subject matter must come second.  Your patriotism must come second.  Your "fight the power" mentality must come second.  Everything other reason must come second to the primary reason that you are in that classroom; to help kids.  All of it is for the kids.  Now, this means that often you will know what is better for the kids than almost anyone, even parents.  It doesn't mean that you have the right to override decisions by the admin, district or parents, but you have the power to make your classroom a place that benefits kids, even indirectly.  Don't ever forget that.

-Mistakes happen.  Don't beat yourself over them too much.  However there is a very simple solution to a lot of mistakes that will often get you forgiveness from the admin.  Hard work.  Nothing beats hard work.  In fact, much can be forgiven if you work hard and show that you can change the mistakes you made in the past.  A good administration will notice that even though you are making some errors in your first years, that you are working your butt off to make sure that they don't happen again.  If your admin doesn't see that, teach somewhere else.  However, realize that hard work means exactly that, hard work.  You arrive early, stay late, and yes, work on your own time to better your craft (more about that later).

-Preparation is one of the best solutions to classroom issues.  Don't simply be "pretty ready", be hyper-prepared.  Have everything so ready, so far in advance that you can focus on the most important aspect of teaching, the classroom portion.  All that prep takes time and be ready to spend weekends and evenings getting ready for what's about to happen in classroom.  The rewards are well worth it.  First, you can focus on the kids, not the paperwork.  Second, your necessity to be ultra-prepared will be diminished as the years roll on because, guess what, you have it done already!

-You will learn that classroom management and election campaigns have a lot in common.  You need to know where and when to pick your battles.  It is very easy to make a simple situation an explosive one with teenagers.  You have to remember that they are kids and you are the professional.  Not every profane word is worth a referral.  Every smart ass comment should not be acknowledged.  Yes, kids are going to be kids and you can't constantly go to war over small transgressions.  Don't take things personally.  Be consistent and immediate when doling out consequences, both negative and positive.  The more professional you are, the greater respect they will have for you.

-Document everything.  Meet with a counselor?  Document it.  Talk with a parent on the phone?  Document it.  Toss a kid from class?  Document it.  The more paperwork that you have, the more you will be taken seriously by all parties involved.  Unfortunately, teachers take the brunt of the blame for student failure, regardless of the situation.  Document phone calls, e-mails, meetings, student behavior, everything.  It makes meetings much quicker and easier when you can simply open a binder and show the evidence.  This becomes more important when dealing with 504's and IEP's.  Document every possible method that you use to implement a special education learning plan.  It could save a lot of hassle, and litigation.

-You must find your own style of teaching and it must fit who you are.  Any teacher that says that a certain teaching style is completely right or completely wrong is full of shit.  Lectures work.  Group projects work.  Self assessment works.  Lots of different techniques work and it will take a few years until you get it down to something you are comfortable with.  It will sound like everyone wants to throw things at you and tell you that it is golden.  Fine.  Take it under advisement and adjust it to what you need to do to make it work.  Or chuck it out the door.  Better yet, save it for down the road when you find the rhythm.  Be patient and don't listen to the idiot pundits that think that becoming a great teacher happens in one year.  You'll find it.

-Students are some of the best judges of good teaching that exist.  95% of all students actually want to learn.  They tell you in means that are not typical but will tell you immediately if you are doing it "wrong".  They are going to resist some because they are kids, but that isn't nearly as bad as wasting their time.  Make every minute of class a meaningful experience for the students.  It doesn't have to be all show and no substance because kids can sniff out stuff that has no merit (like STAR tests).  However students will always have a positive response to work they find meaningful.  I make my Seniors work at the end of their Senior year harder than any teacher on campus on two, that's TWO, major projects.  Know what they remember fondly when they come talk to me years later?  That's right.  The two projects.  And they thank me for it.

-Find someone who knows the ropes and figure out what really matters.  I was fortunate to work next to someone about my age that had been doing the job for about five years, but really knew the in's and out's of the school, the department, and the town.  It really gave me an edge on figuring out my priorities and how to tread around certain members of the school. 

-Regardless of what you hear from administrators, union lackeys, media, or citizens from the town you live in, nothing is more important than the work that you do in the classroom.  Professional Learning Communities, online grade programs, pay raises, union grievances, department conflicts, athletic programs, PTA's..............nothing will matter more than what you do with the time you have with kids in class. Always remember that.

And some smaller, yet still important (and risky) items:

-District driven professional development is pointless.  Avoid if you can and collaborate with other teachers.  That is the best professional development.

-Unions will not save your job.  Good administrators will help you grow to the point of not needing "saving".  Remember what is important.

-Homework is overrated.  Thinking is not.  I'm not saying that you should eliminate all homework, but it better be of high value.

-Create a classroom setting that does two things; reflect who you are, and show off student work.

-Don't accept late work.  It just means more work for you and it enables students and parents.

-You will not be able to get to everyone.  Some students will be beyond your help and you need to be able to focus on those that need (and want) your help.  Otherwise, you will drive yourself insane.

Well, maybe that helps and maybe it doesn't.  I just figured that it should be said on my own terms and in a mode that I would relate to a new teacher.  Good luck to those that are starting in a new world.  I hope that after seven years, you love it as much as I do.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Probably not a very nice thing to wish for..........


........but tell me that at the end of this video you don't want Tommy DeVito (played by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas) to step on screen and make Paris sleep with the fishes.

Now that would make even Tommy laugh.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Don't trust the teachers



Looks like if I lived in Lamar County in the state of Mississippi, I'd be trouble. 

Apparently the district has decided that any contact over a technological device between student and teacher must be sinister in nature because they banned any communications by way of Instant Message and Text Message.  This is just another edict in the list of measures that make teachers look unprofessional and give off the vibe that most instructors are just short of becoming the next Debra Lafave.  The whole thing stinks.  Now, why would the school district take the measures of barring techno-speak between students and teachers?  Could it be a scandal?  A long list of teachers that have gone afoul of the law?

"We didn't have any breech or event in any way that led us to this decision," Superintendent Ben Burnett said.

"The only intent is to limit the personal communication between teachers and students. We don't need to let it cross the line between professional and personal communication."

You're telling me that the teachers can't control themselves in creating personal relationships with students?  That technology actually facilitates these interactions?  Do they realize how absurd this sounds?  Obviously not, and once again the idea that technology is dangerous in the hands of teachers is disturbing.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I've both text messaged and instant messaged students.  I decided that communication between myself and the students could be enhanced by technology about three years ago.  I made myself available near the end of the year by e-mail and found that I was receiving e-mails nightly from students looking for a variety of resources; from links to websites, to clarification on homework.  But e-mail was limited to the time it took to respond so last year I got Window's Live Messenger on my computer.  See, I don't have kids and my evenings are usually spent eating, talking with my wife, and then watching Giants or Kings games in front of the tube with my laptop on the table.  Sports are great background noise.  I found that at least three nights a week I had students wanting academic assistance, and since I was working anyway, why not give it to them?  The students found it valuable and I found it good for kids' progress.  Facebook's new chat app has also been used, but more for ex-students that like to chit-chat about one thing or another.  The text message angle has been used less.  During field trips, Model United Nations trips, or during away basketball tournaments I use it to keep track of kids and send messages en masse.  Students text me from Model UN committee and ask where to meet for lunch (a college campus is quite big), and basketball players are given my number in case they are late for games (Santa Rosa traffic sucks). 

I have a couple of online rules that I follow when communicating with a student.  First, I log everything.  Live Messenger logs all communications that I have with students and those logs are saved.  Second, I never initiate a communication with a student unless it is directly related to an immediate school necessity (ie "meet outside of the BMU after committee).  Third, I don't delve into any area with the student that is not related to school.  Finally, I don't rehash what we did in class, including repeating what the homework was.  They know where that is and I'm not about to hold their lazy hand.  See, I monitor myself because I'm a professional, like the 99% of teachers that are out there trying to get these kids to succeed.  The technology is there to help us in that endeavor and slamming the door in our face is a great way to piss us off.  It's also hypocritical.  Teachers realize the pressure that society puts on them for success, but can't get a logical uniform standard in place that benefits the kids the most.  On one side you have the idiots in Lamar County banning technology, and on the other you have the examples like KIPP schools that basically require 24/7 technology access between student and teacher.  There can't be a happy medium? 

I know, how about we let teachers be professionals and go after the morons that get into inappropriate relationships with students.  That sounds like a more logical approach.